Espanola's Spicy Police Blotter Tells All
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
The police blotter is a regular feature in many small town American newspapers. They're usually filled with the tedium of daily police work - drunk driving, burglaries, domestic disturbances, suspicious persons.
But as NPR's John Burnett reports, the police blotter in the Rio Grande Sun in Northern New Mexico is in a class by itself.
JOHN BURNETT: When the Rio Grande Sun hits the streets of Espanola every Wednesday, most readers scan the political news and sports scores, then go straight to the police blotter to find out what's really going on.
Mr. BRAIDEN TRAPP (Managing Editor, Rio Grande Sun): The call was from Thursday, August 10, 4:58 a.m., Santo Nino Lane. A woman reported that a man had challenged his entire family to a fight and was presently hitting his mother. That's 5:00 in the morning. That's probably after a day and a night of drinking.
BURNETT: Managing editor Braiden Trapp continues the tradition of the police blotter started by his father, Bob Trapp, who helped found the newspaper 50 years ago in this historic town situated on the Rio Grande, between Santa Fe and Taos.
Perhaps these police calls wouldn't raise an eyebrow in New York or New Orleans, but news editor Kevin Bersett, who assembles the blotter every week, never ceases to be amazed at what happens in this city of 10,000 people.
Mr. KEVIN BERSETT (News Editor, Rio Grande Sun): I hadn't been to many other small towns and done their police blotters to compare them, but it seems like we have an inordinate amount of people doing ridiculous things at all times of the day and the night.
BURNETT: Take for instance, the woman in the parking lot of the Walgreens, who lifts her tank top for $2. Again, Braiden Trapp.
Mr. TRAPP: And she comes and goes. She'll be in it like maybe two weeks in a row and then she's not in it for a couple of months. The manager of Walgreens will call and say, you know, there's a woman out front flashing. And the police will show up, and they know who she is, too. She's the same woman over and over. And she tells them, you know, she'll tell the police that, you know, I'm just trying to make money here.
BURNETT: For years, readers follow the weekly exploits of the man police referred to in their report as Espanola's foremost drunk. He died last year. Then there are the frequent and bizarre complaints from a woman who lives in a public housing project on Calle de Pajarito - the street of the little bird.
Mr. TRAPP: Monday, August 28 at 4:31 p.m. A Calle de Pajarito frequent caller -see they call her a frequent caller - reported that several local politicians were sexually harassing her. And so then at 5:39 p.m., about an hour later, the Calle de Pajarito woman called back to say she had relatives coming and she was afraid that people would "sex them" - sex them is in quotes.
BURNETT: The police blotter in the Rio Grande Sun has a following. A Web site dedicated to police blotters from newspapers across the country often features choice items from Espanola. And Jay Leno once quoted the report of a woman who smuggled heroin in a burrito to her boyfriend in the local jail. Some police calls have the quality of the magical reality of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Listen to these items read by actors of Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe.
Unidentified Man #1: July 28th, 10:58 a.m., a very delusional bearded man wearing a blue sweater and blue pants was talking to the robotic horse in front of Center Market, a caller reported.
Unidentified Man #2: March 23rd, 11:14 p.m., police responded to a report of a large domestic violence episode with people drinking, wives cheating and lots of fighting.
Unidentified Man #3: April 27th, 12:13 a.m., a shirtless man was sitting on top of a light pole on Calle Vigil, a caller reported. Police made contact with the man who denied climbing the pole.
Unidentified Man #4: November 28th, 12:28 p.m., a suspicious bald man was sitting on the bank of a ditch. The caller said the man had been sitting there for a couple of hours. The man advised police he sits there and ponders life.
Unidentified Man #5: June 16th, 10:31 p.m., a Santo Nino caller said a man in a white Dodge was chasing people with a sword.
Unidentified Woman #1: April 3rd, 6:25 p.m., a Calle del Pajarito woman was yelling sexual obscenities at neighborhood children, a caller said. According to dispatch logs, they are throwing cheese at her, and the neighbors are looking at her and she doesn't like that.
Unidentified Man #6: February 18th, 4:29 p.m., a South Riverside Drive caller requested police to patrol the area after someone left sausages around his property.
BURNETT: Now it should be said that Espanola, New Mexico, is a family-oriented, staunchly Catholic city famous for great New Mexican food, colonial Hispanic crafts and low-riders. It's located in a lovely high desert valley between the Sangre de Cristo and Jemez Mountains.
Unidentified Woman #2: We have a 1041, calling and advising, she was going down the road and it appeared that an individual fell off the back of a truck.
BURNETT: But no one denies the disorderly and eccentric behavior in the police blotter is a symptom of serious drug and alcohol problems in the community.
Sergeant CHRISTIAN LOPEZ (Espanola Police Department): This definitely is no Mayberry, you know, it's not as calm and quiet. I mean, obviously, the paper shows that. We have problems.
BURNETT: Sergeant Christian Lopez of the Espanola Police Department says they need more police officers, more mental health treatment and more substance abuse treatment.
Sgt. LOPEZ: It's serious stuff, and people are getting hurt and people are dying because of this, like the drug problem. But like I said, instead of people making fun of Espanola, why don't they go to the big-time politicians and say, hey, get money into the police department, get money into public safety.
BURNETT: The police blotter paints a picture of the community that's not exactly what the bank or the Chamber of Commerce would like to project, but Craig Simpson(ph) doesn't worry about that. He and his wife, Karen, originally from Chicago, owned the Dairy Queen in Espanola.
Mr. CRAIG SIMPSON (Dairy Queen Owner, Espanola, New Mexico): Yeah, in some ways it's sad, but in other ways, it's part of our community. And the people here are wonderful but there is that side of the community and, you know, it's there.
BURNETT: In fact, for a while, the Dairy Queen was showing up in the police blotter so often, mainly for fights in the parking lot, that Simpson went to the paper with an idea.
Mr. SIMPSON: I knew everybody in town read it. And I thought to myself, well, we're in it so much maybe we should just sponsor the darn thing.
BURNETT: The Rio Grande Sun declined.
John Burnett, NPR News.